The Wood Brothers
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2008, Volume 15, #4
Written by John Metzger
Mon April 7, 2008, 06:45 AM CDT
Sophomore albums are never easy to make. On the one hand, a band needs to adhere closely to whatever personality it initially had created for itself. At the same time, though, a group also must move beyond its debut and demonstrate a clear pattern of growth. Finding a balance between these two objectives, however, is where most outfits go astray, and typically, guest musicians are brought on board in an attempt to cover the struggling act’s awkward missteps and deficiencies.
At first glance, The Wood Brothers’ Loaded gives the appearance of following this blueprint precisely. John Medeski, who produced the ensemble’s debut Ways Not to Lose, has taken the helm once again. Likewise, the duo of Chris and Oliver Wood tapped a slew of friends — drummer Billy Martin and violinist David Mansfield as well as vocalists Frazey Ford, Pieta Brown, and Amos Lee — for assistance. Fortunately, Oliver Wood’s rapidly maturing vocal style — he often sounds, now, as if he is conjuring Van Morrison rather than Bill Withers — lends the outing tremendous gravity. The result is that Loaded is anything but a textbook recording.
A year ago, The Wood Brothers’ mother succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease. Although not all of Loaded’s songs deal directly with her death, the effect that it had upon the siblings weighs quite heavily upon the entirety of the endeavor. Set against a backdrop of quietly ruminative music that recalls the ragged, folk-and-soul style of The Band, opening track Lovin’ Arms is an expression of Chris and Oliver Wood’s misery over her passing. Don’t Look Back is a hushed, mournful dirge that serves as a beautiful, touching goodbye. Framed by an atmospheric and spooky, Southern-fried, blues-based arrangement, Twisted is an attempt to cope with their misdirected guilt, and the weary yearning that fills Still Close rounds out the collection as the brothers take bittersweet comfort in the memories that remain with them.
Without question, then, Loaded is a deeply personal album, and this is why the trio of cover songs, which are delivered in succession near the final moments of the set, prove to be detrimental to the endeavor. There’s no doubt that Jimi Hendrix’s Angel, Bob Dylan’s Buckets of Rain, and the traditional Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor all serve the prevailing mood and theme of the recording. Yet, although they are rendered admirably, they also are so well known that they have the unfortunate effect of scuttling all of the intimacy that The Wood Brothers so carefully had created prior to this point. This lapse in judgment might have been made with the best of intentions, or it could have been a subconscious way for the duo to mask how revealing the rest of the affair is. While the move doesn’t derail Loaded completely, it does temper its impact enough to keep a good outing from being a great one. ½
Of Further Interest...
Loaded is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box